Take Five Hundred New Nightmares

Liza St. James

This is how to make a piece of hell. The other pieces require assembly, but our part is the least we can do. Then there’s assistance, like Howard Lord and his eerie noise music. The kind that’s good when you put it on for yourself but scary when someone else plays it for you. We’re here because every welcome sign in town is missing letters, and we haven’t seen enough of them yet to piece it together.

On foot far from the train station we call for a taxi. One phone number takes us to the next and then another brings us to Howard Lord. I know his name from the faux medallion he’s taped to the glove compartment. He doesn’t say hello or even respond when I do. We don’t hear him say anything until a few minutes into the trip when he answers the phone. Taxi, he says. No, it was a white male.

We pass a place called Poverty Barn and signs reading Exotic Dancer, Now Hiring. Geese rest in a long puddle on the side of the highway, not budging as we pass. I can feel the music, the reverb, in my thighs. Howard Lord isn’t fucking around. We pass For Sale signs selling “wipers,” and I think, Any old place will do. Crumbs line the cracks in the leather. I run my hand along the cushion, stopping just as I reach flesh. He can see what I can’t. He can see Lord’s face, or part of it. He can see Lord heightening the volume that’s jumping my thighs. He covers my hand in his and though I’m still clutching gathered crumbs, I look up at him. He says something I can’t hear over the music, strokes my fingers to keep his from clamming.

This is how it starts, I recall. I could have been a bird and not here with Lord. My fingers and the men who admire them. My fingers, long and slender.


Liza St. James is a writer and translator from San Francisco. An editorial assistant for Transit Books and assistant editor of NOON, her poems and stories have appeared in Gesture, Vitriol, and Tunica, among others. She is a teaching fellow at Columbia University.